Isn’t it strange that when a senior minster in government feels threatened about the possibility of losing his or her job, it is not unusual to see U-Turn!
My reasoning? Simply to ask the question when over say the past three years that the present Secretary of State for Defence has been in the job had we ever heard Ben Wallis use words such as:
‘The UK is likely to go from the biggest spender on defence in Europe to eighth – falling below the core NATO target of 2% of GDP by the second half of the decade or indeed, his daring to suggest that the UK needs a bigger Army? Never in the case of the first comment – only very recently in regard of the second. Well, the above words have finally appeared from the mouth of the firmer Army Captain and now Secretary of State for Defence in an interview with Surprise, surprise then, as the above words appeared from Ben Wallace this morning in an interview with Deborah Haynes on Sky News.
Don’t see this as Mr Wallace finally seeing sense. He is first and foremost a politician and one looking to secure his next position in government under a new leader. That said, I am certainly not suggesting that Mr. Wallace is wrong in calling for more spending on defence but why on earth didn’t he fight the cause at any stage over the past two years and why has he until very recently continued to back the ideals and intentions laid out in the 2021 Integrated Defence Review which most of us know is fatally flawed?
The rub of what he said on the SKY News interview is as follows:
“I think defence needs more money because the threat has gone up and I’m threat-led,” he said, speaking on Monday while travelling back to the UK from a trip to Slovakia.
At present, UK defence spending is 2.28% of national income “and falling”, Mr Wallace said.
“We are forecast to be below 2% probably in the year 2026 – it might be (financial year) 2025-26 or 2026-2027. We are going down. We will go from the first (biggest defence spender) in Europe to eighth in Europe and carry on falling.”
As for how an increase in defence spending to 3% of GDP by 2030 might impact on the size and capabilities of the army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, Mr Wallace said certain equipment programmes would probably be bought faster.
He also said the army would carry out a review of what lessons can be drawn from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in terms of vulnerabilities for UK defence that need fixing.
“I think you would see an increase in the numbers of the army, but not necessarily where people think,” Mr Wallace said, noting that all military mass has to be “relevant”.
Note in that last sentence and in what was probably another first, the Secretary of State for Defence dare to use words implying that after all the former CDS and others in the MOD have said so many times – mass remains as important today as it ever did.
It is of course absolutely right that the UK should spend more on small sophisticated weapons, counter drones, equipment used for electronic jamming, cyber threats and attack, satellites, space, eye’s in the sky, long range artillery systems and so on.
But it is equally important that in the longer term, and despite rightly investing heavily in weapons for the future such as Type26 and 31 Frigates, Dreadnought and Tempest that we reverse the fixation amongst those charge with decision making in the MOD that we now don’t need to increase numbers of weapons that we already possess such a Typhoons for the RAF, Joint Strike Fighters for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, speed up the process of increasing the number of support vessels for the two Royal Navy aircraft carriers, sort the mess that is Ajax and either go back to the drawing board, extend the life of Warrior or buy more Boxer including a tracked version.
Of equal importance is the UK’s lack of ISTAR capability and to which I remind of Air Marshal Sir John Slessor’s infamous words – “it is no use fighting an enemy that you cannot see”.
At a stroke last year, the UK ditched all remaining Sentry E3-D capability as well as all five of the fantastic Raytheon Sentinel airborne battlefield and ground surveillance aircraft. While the UK has now got all nine P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance aircraft operating from RAF Lossiemouth, in what was surely amongst the two worst decisions to emanate from the Integrated Review process, the MOD decided that rather than acquiring 5 Boeing E-7 Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control air platforms we would now only purchase 3. The other bad decision was the IR plan to prematurely withdraw C-130J medium-lift capability before its replacement aircraft, the A400M has been fully cleared to undertake all roles required of it.
I could go on but apart from concurring with Secretary of State’s view that losing 10,000 Army posts as outlined in IR and cutting personnel numbers to just 72,500 by 2025 should be reversed. That said, the Army needs to stop living behind its history, modernise and change.
First Typhoon Handed OVER BY BAE Systems to Qatar
All to rarely do we see senior government ministers getting right behind export campaigns but one of the exceptions has been the Hawk and Typhoon aircraft acquired by Qatar from BAE Systems.
So, it was particularly pleasing to see an announcement from BAE Systems ton Monday that that company had delivered the first Typhoon military jet from an order for 24 for the Qatar Armed Forces at a ceremony hosted by Cliff Robson, BAE Systems Managing Director Air. Qatar is the ninth country to acquire Typhoon and it certainly will not be the last
Delivered on-time and on-schedule, Secretary of State Ben Wallace said at the Warton, Lancashire, ceremony that “Today marks the latest exciting milestone for our joint UK-Qatar collaboration, which will see the sharing of training expertise between our respective air forces and will ensure our nations stay at the forefront of defence capability. This joint project underlines how much Britain values the Middle East.
Tony Gilchrist, Director of Business Development said “today marks the latest significant milestone in our partnership with the Qatar Armed Forces and demonstrates our commitment and support as they (Qatari) prepare to host the FIFA World Cup. WE are working in partnership with the Qatar Emiri Air Force to ensure that we transfer skills and knowledge required to support, maintain and upgrade both their Typhoon and Hawk aircraft.
A Memorandum of Understanding between the Governments of Qatar and the UK was also signed this week for the provision of support including the stand-up of joint UK/Qatar Typhoon and Hawk squadrons providing RAF pilot and technician training.
CHW (London – 16th August 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785